Steve’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Despite all of the turmoil oozing out of Hollywood this year, 2017 still managed to supply us with a bevy of wonderful films to enjoy. I feel like a lot of blockbusters rose to the next level this year, and as always, there were plenty of fantastic independent films to balance everything out. My top 10 of the year is indicative of this balance.
As always, there were a handful of potentials I just haven’t had a chance to see yet, either due to lack of time, or due to the geographical restrictions of living in the great tundra that is Maine, where we aren’t typically privy to early releases. So, some of the buzz worthy films that I haven’t yet peeped… The Darkest HourPhantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, and Wonderstruck. I’m sure there are a few more, but these stand out for me at the moment.

Shuffling the top 10 deck was difficult this year, simply because there were so many excellent films to choose from. I seriously feel that many of my 11-20 list could easily be considered for higher standing. But, as they say, you have to be prepared to kill your darlings.

I’m not going to regale you with any commentary on my “not quite” top ten (ie: 11-20), but I’ll list them, and you should know that all are fantastic and should be on your cinematic radar.

Those are…

20     Logan
19     Beauty & the Beast
18     Detroit
17     Baby Driver
16     Gerald’s Game
15     The Big Sick
14     Star Wars: The Last Jedi
13     Brigsby Bear
12     mother!
11     Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

And the top 10…
Steven Soderbergh comes out of “retirement” to give us Ocean’s Eleven with rednecks, but he never cheapens the experience with tired cultural cliches. Okay, there are a few tired cultural cliches, but they don’t drag the film down. The characters have depth and the actors are all in on this madcap adventure which finds them plotting to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway on the 4th of July. What could possibly go wrong?
This is the film Patriot’s Day wishes it was. Choosing to focus less on the capture of the perpetrators of the cowardly bombing of the Boston Marathon, Stronger instead follows the story of bombing victim Jeff Bauman, played here with ferocious abandon by Jake Gyllenhaal, and the struggle of coming to terms with being thrust into the spotlight as a symbol of hope for an entire nation.
The rebooted Apes trilogy comes to an end with one of the most heartfelt and well crafted war movies in recent memory. This series has gotten better with each installment, hitting all the right notes in the telling of Caesar’s story. The special effects are unmatched. And I’m coming around to the idea that Andy Serkis deserves some recognition from the Academy for his motion capture work.
7 – Get Out
It’s not often you find a horror film getting so much attention during the awards push, but Jordan Peele’s take on race relations in our society disguised as a genre film is simply outstanding in its structure. Funny, scary, and poignant- wrapped up in a tight script, Get Out is a breath of well intended and needed fresh air- conveying a necessary message in our current cultural state.
With undoubtedly one of the best scenes of the year- as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) ascends to her rightful place as warrior princess in the Battle of No Man’s Land, a female icon is finally emblazoned into the fabric of cinematic geekdom. Director Patty Jenkins was without a doubt the right choice to bring Diana’s story to life on the big screen, and to see the impact on the faces of empowered women and girls is easily one of the hallmarks of the 2017 cinematic year.


Based on the making of the 2003 “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, The Room, James Franco deep dives into the persona of eccentric writer/director Tommy Wiseau and the calamity that surrounded the  production of his cinematic oddity. Watching The Room is highly recommended before jumping into The Disaster Artist. Having that context greatly enhances the appreciation for what Franco achieved…..Oh, Hi, Mark!


A deeply moving look at grieving and loneliness, A Ghost Story will not be for everyone. Each scene is a haunting portrayal of loss, shown from both sides of the equation- the living that must move on, and the dead that cannot. This is a deeply emotional and affecting film, shot in a way that can often be uncomfortably slow of pace. Those with a lack of patience may struggle, but if given a chance, this is a film that will resonate on a deep level.


Having worked for Disney for nine years, this story felt very close to home for me. Knowing there were pockets of people living far beneath the poverty line mere minutes from the front gates of the Happiest Place on Earth make me feel equal parts ignorant and culpable. This film is an unflinching look at people living day to day in the shadow of a world that has essentially left them behind. Yet, in all of its squalor, the spirit of six year old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and her friends is rooted in an innocence that is often as hopeful as it is bleak.

2 – I, TONYA

Margot Robbie is fantastic as figure skating’s bad girl, Tonya Harding. Director Craig Gillespie shoots the film in a way that accentuates the zany humor of the scandal surrounding the 1992 olympic games, but he never cheapens the awful abuse levied against Harding by her family and her on again / off again love interest, Jeff Gillooly (here portrayed by Sebastien Stan). Harding, while not completely innocent, is treated mostly as a product of her environment, unable to free herself of the bad influences in her life, and she comes away here as a mostly sympathetic figure. Allison Janney, as Harding’s Mom, is a stand out.


In what seems to be a renaissance of coming of age films, Lady Bird raises the bar even further, perhaps to a place unaccessible for whatever comes next. Greta Gerwig’s scriptwriting is so tight, it’s difficult to find any flaw in the narrative of high school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, all at once head strong and in search of an identity. Her contentious relationship with her mother Marion (an award worthy Laurie Metcalf) provides the crux for everything happening on screen. The result is a heartfelt and sometimes difficult look at love and familial relationships, told in a refreshingly honest way.

Steve’s first cinematic experience dates back to 1972, when his Aunt took him to see Dumbo at Buffalo’s historic North Park Theater.  With the seed planted, his love for movies has blossomed into a full time obsession over the years, and he will happily engage in conversation about all things film related, especially the works of Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino.  He also manages to find time to keep current on the plethora of great television shows and comic book series, and build upon his retro vinyl collection.

He lives in South Portland, Maine with his wife and a menagerie of small furry pets.  When not engaged in the latest pop culture phenomenon, he spends time working on creative writing projects or updating his personal blog,  Follow him on social media at and Twitter@woosterbbb.


About ten minutes before my screening of Logan, 20th Century Fox’s latest venture into the X-Verse, a family of four wandered in, popcorn and sodas in hand. Mom, Dad, two kids. Two very young kids. Like, ten-ish at best. I don’t judge. How you parent your kids is on you. Maybe these people did the requisite homework on Logan. Maybe they didn’t. I’m leaning toward they didn’t. They never left, so here’s to them for sticking it out. But if the countless F-bombs and butt shot from the Deadpool 2 teaser ahead of the feature didn’t waver them, I’m thinking the 137 minutes of Logan led to a few awkward family moments. When they got home, those parents might have had some ‘splainin’ to do.

Logan earns its “R” rating, and then some. Filmgoers amped up for a paint by number, CGI, save the universe extravaganza should be warned that disappointment lurks. Logan is an intimate character portrait unlike anything we’ve seen in the guise of a superhero movie to date; Nolan’s Batman trilogy included. And we are so better off for it.

It’s the year 2029. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is old. The indestructible mutant is worn out; limping, broken physically and mentally. We find him living out his existence driving a limousine, under the guise of his given name, James Howlett. He tolerates obnoxious, frat boy businessmen and bachelorette parties between alcoholic benders intended to help mask the pain he endures from the adamantium that has finally turned his body against him. It is a shock to see the once unbreakable X-Man in such disrepair.

In a way that isn’t fully explained in the film, the mutant population is nearly extinct. No new mutants have been born in years, and little hint to what happened is given other than a brief mention of ‘that thing that happened at Westchester.” It can be presumed that the aging Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), suffering from dementia and seizures, probably had something to do with it. Now over ninety years old, Professor X lives contained within an abandoned metal silo south of the border, hidden from the government that has deemed him the most powerful weapon of mass destruction in the world. He is cared for by the Albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Logan. The dynamic between Logan and Xavier is one of reluctant bedfellows. His respect and admiration for Xavier is ever present, but he assists in Xavier’s care more as a sense of duty than a preference. Xavier, in his moments of clarity, just wants to be able to pee in peace.

The story begins to take off when a frantic woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), begs Logan to take her and an eleven year old mutant girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), to North Dakota, where a mutant haven called Eden supposedly awaits. They are being chased by cybernetically enhanced soldiers called reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), belonging to the Transigen corporation, where Gabriela once worked as a nurse and cared for children who were being bred and raised as mutant soldiers. Laura, we learn, was bred using Logan’s DNA, and she shares her powers in the same capacity as her “father.” The apple does not fall far from the tree. Laura is as feral and ruthless as Logan, and we haven’t seen a tandem dish out this level of bloody mayhem since Hit Girl and Big Daddy patrolled the streets of New York. If you found the violence in Kick-Ass not to your liking, buyer beware.

When Logan, Xavier, and Laura are forced to the road in an old pick-up truck to flee the reavers, the film borrows elements from Mad Max: Fury Road, Midnight Special, and most notably the 1953 western, Shane. Logan becomes a classic chase movie, where the good guys do their best to stay a step ahead, even though we know confrontation is inevitable.

This is a film to be commended for foregoing conventional blockbuster enhancements. Director James Mangold chooses to linger instead on intimate character dynamics which are some of the best moments on screen. This feels like a true life expose on familial relationships. Of fathers and sons. Fathers and daughters. Of friends who have been through everything together and somehow lived long enough to ruminate together about all of it. Jackman and Stewart are the doing their best work with these characters. No other X-Men film comes close. And Dafne Keen is a revelation; equal parts unsettling in her ferociousness and admirable in her confidence on screen with these franchise heavyweights. But even as the film slows down in spots to wallow in intimate moments with its characters, have no fear, there is plenty of snicktedy snickt action to enjoy in all of its limb flying, bloody goodness.

Logan is an emotional ride, and there will be moments, especially at the end, that will resonate long after the credits have rolled. This isn’t going to be for everyone. Mystique isn’t going to pop in to save the day. Logan is the closest thing to a “real” movie the superhero genre has even gotten. There are no capes. No apocalypse. No eating of Shawarma. Just a broken old man and one final mission.

phpxnctheamSTEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and mildly amused by pandas.


About eight months ago, I was riding in a car with a friend.  Jason, we’ll call him.  Jason is not a close friend.  We see each other a couple of times a year, on Facebook occasionally, but we do not converse regularly.  Jason is Black.  After exchanging the normal pleasantries, I took the conversation to what felt like an appropriate direction.  I asked him if he’d seen Straight Outta Compton.

Yeah.  I did that.

Jason is a good guy.  Turns out he had indeed seen Straight Outta Compton, and we had a robust conversation about it.  But for the last eight months, the fact that I asked him that question has bothered me.  Why didn’t I ask him if he had seen Sing Street?  Or Neighbors 2?  Instead, I asked my Black friend if he’d seen the NWA biopic, and regaled him in conversation about Gangsta rap and its influences on modern music, neither of which hold any interest for me.  I just subconsciously assumed it probably did for him.  It felt like a natural question at the time.  Ever since, I’ve felt kinda stupid for being so shallow.

Then, along comes Jordan Peele’s debut film, Get Out.

Racism is the central theme which drives Get Out, but I’m not convinced its purpose is to educate White people as much as it is Peele giving a wink and a nod to Black people, not in a tongue-in-cheek way, but in an “I get it” way. In a “this is for you” sort of way.  There are so many layers and metaphors in Get Out, we could have hours of conversation and never cover all of them.  I’m not sure we’re supposed to.  It would be insulting to Black people to even feign comprehension regarding their plight in America today.  Many of the narrative nuance in Get Out likely won’t even register with White people, because it simply can’t.  “I understand where you’re coming from”, proclaim many well intentioned White folk.  No.  No, you don’t.

Now, I’m not talking about Neo-Nazi, hang ’em from the trees, Jim Crow style racism here.  Not at all.  Get Out isn’t that forthcoming and isn’t going to make it that simple for you.  I’m talking about the White, “liberal racism” that permeates society; a construct by mostly young, well intentioned, social justice warriors that jump up on soap boxes to renounce racism, and to profess that they will champion our Black friends against the evil racist scourge.  Then they drop their bullhorns (or log off Twitter), jump into their Prius’ and drive back home to their suburban abodes where most Black folks don’t bother going,  because they live with an inherent fear that doing so will just result in having the police called on them, or worse.  Because being White still comes with its priveledges.  And Get Out, if nothing else, wants you to at least understand that much.

Most White people won’t see beyond the standard genre tropes, label Get Out a cool thriller, and never grasp the impact the film may be having on the Black people sitting right next to them.  On screen, they’ll see an innocent Black man get asked for his identification by a police officer for no discernible reason. It’s familiar, and it angers us because we know its supposed to.  And they will laugh at the ignorant old White people in the film that make statements like, “I know Tiger Woods” and “I would have voted for Obama a third time if I could have.”  That’s where I got it.  That’s when I understood what Peele was doing here.  There is no difference in those dumb statements than in me asking Jason if he’d seen Straight Outta Compton.  That’s when I finally understood that no matter how much outrage I felt over the horrors of racism plastered all over my television screen, I could never truly understand the impact, because it was not my reality.

As a filmmaker, Peele is sure-handed and confident in his vision.  Many of the requisite genre tropes are subverted in favor of scenes of social awkwardness.  A few jump scares are sprinkled in, but the true “horror” lies mostly within the subtext and has no inclination to coerce reactionary gasps and screams from the audience.  That doesn’t imply there aren’t plenty of payoffs to enjoy, especially in the climactic moments.  Just don’t go in looking for a white knuckle experience.

Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, the protagonist, with a cautious skepticism that gets progressively more intense as he realizes things at his girlfriend’s parent’s home are not as inviting as they might have seemed.  His eyes widen fearfully with each passing frame.  Allison Williams is Rose, the girlfriend that insists their trip to introduce Chris to her parents will be a good time, because they “aren’t racist.”  I won’t give away any of the twists and turns that drive the narrative once Chris and Rose arrive at the family home…in the middle of nowhere…where there are no issues with privacy.  Read into that what you will.

I feel like Get Out may be a catalyst for a new generation of self awareness.  No film in recent memory stands out as more of a barometer for the current racial divide that continues to fester in this country.  And Peele gets away with it by disguising it as a horror film.  It’s an interpretive, cinematic dance, subtly unveiling the Black experience in our society, peeling back deeper revelations as it progresses, and leaves us with plenty to chew on.  White people are being schooled, never having known they’ve even stepped inside a classroom.


phpxnctheamSTEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and mildly amused by pandas.